Sex Crimes

I've been accused of sexual assault by my college. What is going to happen?

What is Title IX?

Title IX Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Title IX Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Title IX is a federal civil rights law sighed by President Richard Nixon in 1972 as part of a larger Education bill. At its core Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions when those instructions receive federal aid.

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. 20 U.S.C. § 1681

This had an enormous effect in opening up higher education to woman in all fields of study as well as establishing a place for woman sport at any school that receives any federal money from the elementary to university level. Before the passage of Title IX, many schools had quotas for woman in the areas they were allowed to study, the places they were allowed to study, and the subjects they were allowed to study (including complete bans from “male” areas such as medicine). Even if a woman gained access to a restricted program she might not have been allowed to stay if she got married or became pregnant. A woman in medical school in 1960 would often have a curfew placed on her and a requirement that she live in a particular dorm and only be allowed into certain residencies.

How does Title IX relate to sexual assault allegations?

Title IX also makes schools responsible for taking steps to prevent sex-based harassment, including sexual harassment, and for responding quickly and effectively to harassment when it occurs. What this means has varied since the act’s inception, however. With increasing pressure stemming from recent sex-abuse scandals, schools have stepped up their response to sex allegations. The previous Presidential Administration decided to give more guidance and wrote what has become to be known as the “Dear Colleague” letter which spelled out a school’s obligations once a claim of sexual violence has been made:

  • Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.

  • If sexual violence has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, whether or not the sexual violence is the subject of a criminal investigation.

  • A school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including interim steps taken prior to the final outcome of the investigation such as issuing a no contact order.

  • A school must provide a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual violence and sexual assault.

  • These procedures must include an equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence and the same appeal rights.

  • A school’s grievance procedures must use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination.

  • A school must notify both parties of the outcome of the complaint.

Due to the Obama administrations guidelines, many schools now provide very few protections for the accused. Once an accusation has been made, a school must investigate the claim. However, because the standard is currently one of “a preponderance of the evidence,” a school will sustain a claim (find the student responsible) if it is decided that “there is greater than fifty percent chance that the proposition is true.” Although schools will permit the accused to have an attorney present during the various stages of the investigation, many schools do not provide any sort of trial, hearing, or opportunity to cross-examine the accuser. Instead, an investigator retained by the school will often interview the parties, review any evidence, speak with some potential witnesses, and then make a finding as to whether a sexual assault has occurred. The investigator’s decision is usually not subject to challenge - meaning if the investigator has found that the accused is responsible, the school will not offer any type of appeal of the investigator’s factual findings.

The investigator’s decision may have permanent consequences for the accused. With very little due process, someone accused of sexual harassment or sexual violence could lose the right to their transcripts and the right to graduate. Even if the accused is permitted to graduate, the accused’s transcripts may contain an indicating that the accused was found responsible for an allegation of sexual assault.

Even worse, academic institutions use the natural inclination we all have to clear our names to endanger the accused with respect to potential criminal charges. Because a student who declines to make a statement or participate in this process will typically be found responsible, a student must choose between waiving his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and losing the education for which the student has paid in time and money. Thus, the students accused of sexual misconduct will often make statements to their school in an effort to “clear their name,” but these statements are fair game to any police agency that may wish to investigate the charges levied by the student’s accuser.

One would think, given the many horrific miscarriages of justice in similar situations, schools would know to be careful, but the schools and the Department of Education appear to have learned nothing:

·      Rolling Stone to Pay $1.65 Million to Fraternity Over Discredited Rape Story

·      College student gets 1 year in prison for false rape accusation

·      60 Minutes investigates: The Duke rape case

·      Exonerated of rape, Brian Banks now realizing NFL dream – in different capacity

How can a Title IX defense attorney help?

The current process gives very little thought to the rights of the accused. For that reason, anyone accused of sexual misconduct should not attempt to go it alone. Nor should they allow any kind of embarrassment they may feel to silence them. Someone accused in this sort of sexual misconduct must reach out to an attorney as quickly as possible. An attorney who has previously represented other defendants at one of these hearings can best guide the accused in how to defend themselves. The first days following an accusation are among the most important and if you have been informed you are under investigation, there are certain steps that must happen as quickly as possible. An experienced defense attorney may be able to help you with the following things:

  • Preparing to give a statement to the school’s Title IX Investigator

  • Reviewing and editing written submissions which may be required as part of the investigation

  • Conducting a thorough investigation into the allegations, including locating third-party witnesses and obtaining witness statements

  • Obtaining and preserving digital and social media evidence such as text messages, Facebook posts

  • Providing advice on how to avoid criminal charges while responding to the allegations

  • Helping you to understand the school’s procedures for the investigation and potential appeals and making sure that you understand all of your rights

Facing criminal charges or under investigation?

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Attorneys

Goldstein Mehta LLC Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police or campus authorities, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We also have extensive experience defending clients against allegations of sexual misconduct in Title IX investigations. We have successfully obtained full acquittals and dismissals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Attempted Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.  

We can help with Title IX investigations at the following universities and more:

  • Bryn Mawr College

  • Cabrini University

  • Chestnut Hill College

  • Drexel University

  • Eastern University,

  • Holy Family University

  • La Salle University

  • Pierce College

  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM)

  • Rosemont College, St. Joseph's University

  • Temple University

  • Thomas Jefferson University

  • University Of Pennsylvania

  • University Of The Arts

  • University Of The Sciences

  • Villanova University

  • West Chester University

  • Widener University

Criminal Defense Attorney Demetra Mehta Quoted on Cosby Case by Associated Press

The Associated Press recently posted an article on the upcoming sentencing in the case of Commonwealth v. William Cosby. Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta was quoted in the article for an analysis of Pennsylvania’s contested Sexually Violent Predator law and the impact of that law on the sentencing proceedings.

Defense lawyers say the state’s latest sex-reporting law, despite several revisions, remains unconstitutional.

“It’s the modern-day version of a scarlet letter,” said lawyer Demetra Mehta, a former Philadelphia public defender, “which I think is sort of an interesting philosophical issue at this time with the #MeToo movement, but also criminal justice reform.”

. . . .

“This is going to probably be a very important case for sex-offender law when it’s up on appeal,” Mehta said. “It’s an area of law that is just sort of unsettled right now. . There’s a lot up on appeal, but there’s not a lot decided.”
— Demetra Mehta
Criminal Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Criminal Defense Lawyer Demetra Mehta

Click here to read the article.

PA Superior Court: Commonwealth May Introduce Expert Testimony on Dynamics of Sexual Violence and Victim Responses to Sexual Violence

Zak T. Goldstein, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

Zak T. Goldstein, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Cramer, affirming the defendant’s convictions for sexual assault and indecent assault. The Superior Court not only held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Appellant, but that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the Commonwealth to introduce expert testimony about the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence, and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted. The Superior Court also affirmed the trial court’s denial of his motion to introduce DNA evidence that showed the complainant had sperm from two other males on her underwear.

Commonwealth v. Cramer

The complainant testified at trial as follows: The complainant met the defendant at a bar in Centre County, Pennsylvania. After meeting at the bar, the complainant and the defendant went to the defendant’s apartment along with the complainant’s roommate. While the complainant was in the bathroom, the defendant entered the bathroom and took of his pants. He then began to penetrate the complainant from behind.

The complainant told the defendant that “he didn’t want to do that.” The defendant did not stop until the complainant “turned around and told him that she didn’t want to do this again and that [she] wasn’t on the pill.” The defendant then asked complainant to engage in oral sex, and the complainant agreed to do so. However, “[s]he stopped giving him oral sex and told him ‘you don’t want this. I don’t want this. This is going to end badly for both of us.’” The complainant’s roommate testified at trial that she heard the complainant say to Appellant “no stop, you don’t want to do this.”

The complainant left the bathroom and eventually left the apartment with her roommate. When they left the apartment, the complainant met a man in the hallway. He testified at trial that the complainant “appeared rattled” and that he inquired if she was okay. The three then went into the man’s apartment so that the complainant’s roommate could use the bathroom. While she was in the bathroom, the complainant told the man and his girlfriend what had happened in the defendant’s apartment. After the roommate was done using the restroom, the two left. They then caught the bus, and this is when the complainant told the roommate about what happened.

Police arrested the defendant, and prosecutors filed charges of Sexual Assault, Indecent Assault, Rape by forcible Compulsion, and Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse by Forcible Compulsion. At trial, the Commonwealth called an expert who testified about how “the manner in which a victim’s response to sexual violence may be counterintuitive.” The defendant attempted to introduce DNA evidence relating to the complainant’s prior sexual contact. Specifically, the defendant attempted to show that there were three contributors of sperm on her underwear. The trial court, however, precluded this testimony based on Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law despite the fact that the complainant told hospital staff that she had not slept with anyone two weeks prior to this incident. The defendant testified at trial that this was a consensual sexual encounter. Nonetheless, the jury found him guilty of Sexual Assault and Indecent Assault. The defendant appealed his conviction to the Superior Court.

What is the Rape Shield Law?

On appeal, the defendant argued that he should have been allowed to introduce the DNA evidence that showed the complainant had sperm on her underwear from two other males. Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law, 18 P.S.A. § 3104. governs the admissibility of evidence of a victim’s sexual conduct. Generally, it prohibits the introduction of the complainant’s prior sexual history. Its purpose is to prevent a trial from shifting its focus from the culpability of the accused toward the virtue and chastity of the victim. It is designed to prevent a defendant from simply attacking a complainant on the basis of his or her alleged promiscuity as whether or not any given complainant has had sex with other people standing on its own is not a defense to a rape charge. Courts have been mostly consistent in holding that the introduction of evidence relating to a complainant’s prior sexual history is not relevant when the issue in a case is whether consent existed.

At the same time, defendants have a right to cross-examine their accusers under the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions. Therefore, appellate courts have recognized that the Rape Shield Law must yield to a defendant’s right to cross-examine on relevant topics. Consequently, Pennsylvania courts have created a balancing test that considers whether the proposed evidence is relevant to attack credibility, whether the probative value outweighs the prejudicial impact and whether there are alternative means to challenge credibility. If a defendant seeks to introduce evidence, he or she must first file a written motion with the court and include an offer of proof as to what the evidence is and why the evidence should be admitted. This is known as piercing the Rape Shield. If the court is satisfied with these reasons, then the court will order an in-camera hearing and make findings on the record as to the relevance and the admissibility of the proposed evidence. It is worth noting that on appeal, an abuse of discretion standard applies and thus it can be very difficult to prevail on appeal on the basis that the trial court improperly prohibited the introduction of this type of evidence.

Expert Testimony in Rape Cases

A Pennsylvania law, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5920, allows the Commonwealth to introduce expert testimony in sexual assault and many child abuse cases. An expert may testify about “the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence, and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted.” Notably, the expert cannot testify as to the credibility of the witness. This is significant because courts have overturned convictions when the expert does so.

However, before the court will permit an expert to testify, the Commonwealth may have to show that the witness is in fact an expert. Further, where the Commonwealth seeks to introduce a “novel” form of science, then this science must comply with the Frye standard. The Frye standard requires that the methodology underlying the novel scientific evidence must have general acceptance in the relevant scientific community. The trial court is not required to conduct a Frye hearing any time a party seeks to introduce scientific evidence. Instead, it is only required when the trial court has articulable grounds to believe that an expert witness has not applied accepted scientific methodology in a conventional fashion in reaching his or her conclusions. The opposing party must demonstrate that the expert’s testimony is based on novel scientific evidence, i.e. that there is a legitimate dispute regarding the reliability of the expert’s conclusions.

The Superior Court’s Decision

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the convictions. The Superior Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the introduction of the DNA evidence. This is notable because the the defendant could not even use this to impeach the complainant’s credibility. As stated above, the complainant told hospital staff that she had not slept with anyone prior to this incident. Despite the DNA evidence contradicting this statement, the Superior Court still denied the appeal. The Superior Court reasoned that this was not relevant given the Appellant’s argument that this was a consensual sexual encounter. Thus, the only issue was whether the complainant had consented. The fact that she had likely slept with other men did not show whether she had consented or not.

The Superior Court also held that a Frye hearing was not necessary to determine the admissibility of the Commonwealth’s expert testimony. The Superior Court stated that the defense failed to make an initial showing that the Commonwealth’s expert testimony was based on novel scientific evidence. In his Motion in Limine, the defendant argued “the testimony of [Commonwealth Expert] is likely to contain opinions based on the human behavioral sciences of psychology, human development, and science.” Therefore, he did not directly assert that the Commonwealth’s expert’s testimony was based on novel science. Additionally, the Superior Court gave great weight to the expert’s firsthand experience with victims and her own research. Consequently, this appeal was denied, as well. The Court’s reasoning in this regard highlights the importance of making an adequate record when challenging the admissibility of evidence in the trial court. The defendant here offered no evidence that anything about the expert’s testimony was novel; therefore, the court did not have to hold a hearing.

Facing Criminal Charges? We Can Help.

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If you are facing criminal charges or are under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, and Attempted Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today. 

 

SORNA Update: PA Superior Court Finds Trial Court Must Reduce Megan’s Law Tier of Registrants Who Had Tiers Retroactively Increased

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has issued an incredibly important decision for Megan’s Law registrants who found their registration requirements and terms increased by Pennsylvania’s SORNA law. In Commonwealth v. Fernandez, the Court held that trial courts have the jurisdiction to and should reduce Megan’s Law registrants’ registration tiers to the tier that was in effect at the time of the plea. This means that if you initially pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of a Tier I offense for a registration period of ten years and later learned that you would have to register as a Tier III offender for life, you may be able to obtain relief by filing a Petition in the Court of Common Pleas which heard your case. This decision is a no brainer – obviously, the Pennsylvania State Police should not be able to retroactively increase the punishment associated with a conviction. However, until this decision, it was unclear how someone affected by the Supreme Court’s decision in Muniz which found that SORNA could not be applied retroactively could obtain relief or if Muniz even applied retroactively.   

Fernandez is the decision of an en banc panel of the Superior Court, meaning it is binding on all other panels unless reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In Fernandez, nineteen Megan’s Law registrants filed identical Petitions to Enforce the Plea Agreement or for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Each of the defendants had pleaded guilty to charges involving sexual offenses prior to the enactment of Pennsylvania SORNA’s statute on December 20, 2012. Under the previous version of Megan’s Law, two of the defendants pleaded guilty to crimes which did not require sex offender registration at all, and the remaining defendants had to register as Tier I offenders for ten years.

These cases were all unrelated, but there were similarities in terms of the plea bargains. In exchange for the guilty pleas, the Commonwealth withdrew various other charges which would have triggered lengthier periods of Megan’s Law Registration. At sentencing, each defendant was informed of whether they would have to register, and if so, for how long. All nineteen defendants subsequently violated their probation and were sentenced either to new periods of probation or incarceration.

When they were re-sentenced, the defendants were told that the new SORNA law increased their registration requirements – meaning some were now required to register for 15 years, some for 25 years, and some for life. SORNA drastically increased the punishments and Megan’s Law consequences for many sex offenses, converting crimes that did not require registration such as Indecent Assault (M2) into Megan’s Law crimes and increasing the term of registration for many offenders. It even required registration for some crimes which did not involve sex acts. 

Because each of these defendants had pleaded guilty in Philadelphia, they filed the petitions in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Each defendant challenged the retroactivity of SORNA to their cases and argued that it violated the plea deals that each had made with the Commonwealth. The trial court denied the petitions, finding that the defendants were not entitled to specific performance of the negotiated plea agreements because the defendants had violated the terms of the agreements by violating their probation. The defendants all appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The Superior Court reversed the decision of the trial court. It found that the required periods of Megan’s Law registration were an implied part of the negotiations in each case. Further, the law on the enforcement of plea deals is well-settled. Although a plea agreement occurs as part of a criminal case, it remains contractual in nature and therefore must be analyzed under contract-law standards.

In evaluating whether a plea deal has been breached, the court must look at what the parties to the deal reasonably understood to be the terms of the agreement. When the Commonwealth makes a promise as part of a plea deal, the Commonwealth must live up to that promise. Here, the Commonwealth promised certain terms of registration in exchange for the guilty plea. Therefore, regardless of whether the defendants violated the plea deals by violating their probation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Muniz prohibits the retroactive application of SORNA. Likewise, the legislature responded to Muniz by amending the SORNA statute to clarify that the previous registration terms which were in effect at the time of the offenses should again apply. Therefore, the Superior Court held that the defendants should be subject to the original periods of sexual offender registration and conditions imposed at the time of the plea bargains, if applicable.

This decision is incredibly helpful to those who have had their Megan’s Law Registration tiers retroactively increased. It also establishes that trial courts have the jurisdiction to re-classify offenders following Muniz. Previously, it was unclear whether defendants seeking relief would be barred by the jurisdictional and time-limit requirements of the Post-Conviction Relief Act and when those time limits would begin to run. The Superior Court here concluded that courts always retain the power to correct an illegal sentence. Because the Supreme Court found that SORNA is punitive and part of a criminal sentence, the trial courts retain the power to correct an improper order to register as a sex offender because the registration is part of the criminal sentence.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

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If you are facing criminal charges, we can help. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers have successfully defended thousands of clients. We are experienced and understanding defense attorneys with the skill and expertise to fight even the most serious cases at trial, on appeal, and in Post-Conviction Relief Act litigation. We offer a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to each potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with a defense lawyer today.